This Spring will see the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the third Avengers film, and the 19th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Leading up to the release of the film, we’re going to dive into each of the Marvel films that came before it. Today we’re continuing things with a look into the third film in the MCU, Iron Man 2.
Ask any fan of the MCU what the worst Marvel film is and they’ll probably tell you Iron Man 2. After the box office explosion from Iron Man and the mediocre success of The Incredible Hulk, Marvel’s next film would be a sequel to Iron Man. Iron Man 2 worked to continue the story of Tony Stark, expand the Marvel Universe, and take some big steps towards the first Avengers film. The biggest problem the film seems to have is that it’s constantly trying to do too much. The film starts strong with a few plotlines that could result in a perfect sequel, but as it moves towards the climax, a lot of events happen and make the film feel cluttered.
The audio of the press conference from the end of the first film, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) admits to being Iron Man, plays over the studio cards. As the film truly begins, we see an old man lying in bed, watching the press conference. He calls out to his son Ivan (Mickey Rourke), and with his dying breath states that it should be Ivan standing there instead of Tony. As his father dies, Ivan screams out in agony. The credits begin and we see him pull out a set of blueprints for the Stark Industries Arc Reactor. Blueprints that have the names Howard Stark and Anton Vanko (Ivan’s father) printed on them. He begins building something in the small, dirty home. It echoes the scenes of Tony building his first Iron Man suit in the first film. The credits end with the reveal that Ivan has made a small arc reactor of his own.
Six months later Tony Stark flies into the Stark Expo in New York in the Iron Man suit. He has become even more beloved thanks to his work as Iron Man, and he gives a speech about all of the great things he’s done. He then explains that the Expo is about legacy, that his father created the original Expo (which ended in 1974), and he’s brought it back in the hopes of helping to highlight and explore what the future might hold. He introduces his father’s original “Welcome Video” which makes Howard Stark (John Slattery) look very Walt Disney-esque.
As the video plays we see Tony standing in the wings of the stage, where he tests his blood to find that it’s at a 19% toxicity level. But it’s not made clear why at this point. Tony leaves the Expo, signing autographs and saying hi to people, including Larry King (Stan Lee). As he gets into his car, a federal marshal (Kate Mara) hands him a subpoena to appear before congress. He decides to drive there with his body guard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Tony shows up to the hearing to find that a congressional committee, led by Senator Sterns (Garry Shandling), wants to take the Iron Man armor from Tony, as they believe it to be a weapon.
The committee brings in Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes to read part of a report he put together about the suit. Don Cheadle replaced Terrance Howard in the role starting with this film, and as he enters the hearing he tells Tony, “It’s me. I’m here. Let’s move on. Deal with it.” A line which seems to not only be in reference to what’s happening in the scene, but is also a nice tongue-in-cheek reference to the recasting. During the hearing, the committee brings in Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who has taken over Stark’s government contract after Tony vowed to stop making weapons. Hammer helps present footage showing that other countries are attempting to make the Iron Man suit and similar weapons. Hammer repeatedly refers to Tony as Anthony, and their banter makes it clear that these two have been in competition with each other for years. Tony takes over the screen in the hearing and shows full footage of the attempts to make the Iron Man armor, all of which are massive failures. One video includes Hammer working with the US government to create a suit, which ends up twisting its torso backwards with a “pilot” inside.
Tony helps wrap up the meeting by stating that he is Iron Man, he and the suit are one, and he’s successfully “privatized world peace.” They adjourn as Senator Sterns yells out (a bleeped out), “Fuck you, buddy,” to Tony. This is especially notable as it’s maybe the only time that the F word is used in the MCU films (unless you count Spider-Man: Homecoming). The next few scenes are mostly buildup as we see that Ivan Vanko is building an exo-suit with electric whips. We find out that the batteries in Tony’s Arc reactor are poisoning him. Tony convinces Pepper to take over the Stark company as CEO. We get hints that Tony is drinking more than he usually does. And Vanko gets a fake passport and tickets to Monaco Historic Grand Prix. This bit is tied to an Easter egg, as the man who gives Vanko the materials is considered a “Ten Rings member,” the terrorist organization that kidnapped Tony in the first film.
We then get into the introduction of Scarlet Johansson’s character. As Tony and Happy are boxing, Pepper comes in with a notary to officially sign the paperwork for Pepper to become CEO. Pepper introduces her as Natalie Rushman. Tony has Natalie spar with Happy as he tells Pepper he wants her to be his assistant. He looks over her file to find that she’s a model and is fluent in multiple languages, including Latin. Natalie takes down Happy easily, and after Tony signs over the company to Pepper, leaves with the paperwork.
Tony arrives in Monaco for the Grand Prix with Pepper and Happy, who is carrying around a red-and-silver briefcase. Tony is welcomed by Natalie, who has already begun working as his assistant, unbeknownst to Pepper. Pepper and Tony talk to Elon Musk and head to the bar, where Hammer shows up with Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb), a reporter that Tony slept with in the first Iron Man film. Hammer explains that she’s doing a piece on him for “Vanity Fair”, and Tony proceeds to point out Hammer’s flaws, including the fact that he has lost his government contract since the congressional hearing.
Tony heads to the bathroom and tests his blood to see that the toxicity is rising more quickly than anticipated. He looks at himself in the mirror and asks, “Got any bad ideas?” Said “bad idea” consists of him deciding to drive the car he owns in the Grand Prix. As everyone flocks to see what’s going on and the TV reporters show Tony getting into the car, Everhart leaves Hammer to watch Tony. Hammer looks at the TV screen to see Tony pointing into the camera, seemingly right at Hammer. The race begins and Vanko shows up, walking directly onto the tack, turning on his exo-suit, and beginning to destroy cars that come in his way. Happy and Pepper get in their car and race to meet Tony before Vanko gets to him. The entire time Hammer watches everything unfold in awe and intrigue.
Then starts the first great action piece of the film. Vanko destroys Tony’s car, but he escapes it. Happy shows up and slams into Vanko, momentarily knocking him out. But Vanko comes to before Tony can get the briefcase containing the new Iron Man armor. Vanko destroys the car, and Tony evades Vanko for a bit before finally getting the briefcase, which unfolds into a slimmed down Iron Man suit that’s completely silver and red. He fights with Vanko for a bit before taking him out and removing the arc reactor from the exo suit. The police take Vanko into custody and Tony goes to his cell to speak with him.
The scene between Tony and Vanko in the prison cell is one of the best in the film, and it is sometimes forgotten when looking back on the film. Vanko tells Tony that he comes from “a family of liars and thieves.” And like the guilty man that he is, he’s using the Iron Man persona to try to rewrite his history. Tony tries to figure out what his motives are, and Vanko explains that he wants to tear down the Stark legacy. “If you can make God bleed then people will cease to believe in him.” He’s also the first person to realize Tony is being poisoned and taunts him with the comment, ”Palladium in the chest a painful way to die.” The scene is perfectly written, directed, and performed, and sets up the idea that Vanko could be a formidable foe for Tony.
Tony and Pepper head home on a plane, where he makes her food and tries to convince her to run away with him. She explains to him that she can’t because she has to clean up the mess with the press and the government now that there’s proof that other suits like Tony’s can be made. Vanko is broken out of prison by Hammer, who offers him a partnership: Vanko’s ideas and Hammer’s resources. Vanko agrees as long as Hammer brings him his bird from back home. Tony gets home and sees that Vanko wasn’t lying; their fathers did in fact work together. Rhodey shows up and help Tony change out his battery, discovering that Tony is being poisoned. He tries to offer to help but Tony brushes him off.
Hammer shows Vanko his set of suits he’s been working on. They have an exchange where Hammer reveals that he wants to have an office in the Pentagon and wants to take down Tony completely. Tony prepares for his birthday party and talks with Natalie. She makes him a drink and covers up the marks from the poison on his skin with makeup. He asks what she would want to do if she knew it was her last birthday. She says, “Anything I want with whoever I want.” So, Tony does. He gets insanely drunk and parties in the Iron Man suit. Pepper tries to stop things, but Tony doesn’t listen, using the suits blasters as a party trick and blowing things up. Pepper tells Natalie that she knows something’s up with her. Rhodey takes the Mark 2 armor from the first film and tells everyone to get out. He and Tony fight, and Tony tells him, “If you want to be a war machine, take your shot.” A clever nod to Rhodey’s “Superhero alias.” They shoot repulsor rays from their suits’ gauntlets at one another, causing an explosion that wipes them both out and destroys everything.
Rhodey takes the suit he’s wearing and brings it to an Air Force Base. Tony, in the Iron Man suit, sits inside the famous Randy’s Donuts sign, when Nick Fury appears. They sit in the donut shop and talk. Tony says he doesn’t want to be part of the “boy band.” Fury reveals that Natalie is really a SHIELD agent named Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Fury tells him that he needs to get his act together, stating he has bigger problems to deal with in the southwest region, and gives him something to help fight the symptoms of the poisoning. Vanko shows Hammer that he’s changed the suits to drones, which Hammer isn’t pleased about. Rhodey shows his commanding officer the Iron Man suit he took from Tony and is told to take it to Hammer to outfit with more weaponry. He tells Rhodey that Hammer is giving a presentation at the Stark Expo, and they can show off the suit.
Back at Tony’s house, Fury talks to Tony about his father. He explains that Howard Stark was on the brink of something huge, something more than just the arc reactor. But Vanko thought it could be used to make them rich, so Howard kicked him out of the company, he went back to Russia, and was sent to prison. Howard wasn’t able to finish his work, so he left it for Tony to continue. Tony tells Fury that his dad was cold and didn’t care about him. Fury refutes that and says that he knew Howard personally, that he was a founding member of SHIELD. Fury leaves Agent Coulson and Natasha to watch over Tony, leaving behind a box of things Howard owned. Meanwhile, Hammer shows off his biggest and best guns to Rhodey, including a small missile that he describes as a “bunker buster” and his “Eiffel tower”, “The Ex Wife.” After showing off a plethora of weapons, Rhodey tells him to put it all in the suit.
We next see Tony sitting at home looking through his father’s things. He watches old film reels of his dad recording the welcome video for the Stark Expo. As the takes go on, he begins drinking and at one point, yells at a young Tony. Tony looks through one of Howard’s journals, which features notes on the tesseract, an object that would be seen in Captain America and the first Avengers film. The reel then cuts to a message Howard left for Tony, one saying that Tony was his greatest creation and that the key to the future is in what he left for him. Tony decides to leave his home, against Fury’s orders, and heads to see Pepper. She’s still doing damage control for the company and trying to fight off Hammer’s construction of the drones as a violation of patent laws; she isn’t very pleased to see him. Tony only makes matters worse by bringing strawberries for her, which she’s allergic to.
After Pepper leaves the office to take care of other business, Tony looks at the model for the Expo that’s sitting in the corner of the office. It was the same one from his father’s video, and it has a plaque saying, “The key to the future is here.” He sees something in it and brings it back home with him. He examines the model and realizes that it’s a blueprint for creating a new element. He then begins building a particle accelerator in his basement garage. Coulson shows up and explains that he has to leave because he’s been reassigned to something in New Mexico. During their exchange, Coulson notices a prototype for the Captain America shield with Howard’s belongings. Tony says it’s exactly what he needs and uses it to prop up part of the particle accelerator. Coulson leaves and Tony finishes putting together the particle accelerator, creating the new element.
We next join Vanko who is working on a new suit for himself. Hammer comes in to inspect the drones before his Stark Expo presentation, and Vanko explains that the drones still can’t do anything except salute. Hammer goes ballistic, and after taking Vanko’s bird, tells him that he’s going to be okay because “something really great” fell into his lap. He then leaves two guards to watch Vanko work while he heads off to the expo, saying they’ll renegotiate when he gets back.
Vanko kills the men and calls Tony, telling him that he’s still going to ruin Tony. Tony realizes that he must be working with Hammer and decides to use the new element immediately to power his reactor and head to the Expo. Hammer begins his presentation, showing off drones for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines before revealing War Machine. Tony then shows up with his new suit and explains to Rhodey that Vanko is alive and working with Hammer. Vanko takes control of the drones and Rhodey’s suit and sends them after Tony. He flies off as Pepper and Natasha confront Hammer. Natasha gets Hammer to reveal where Vanko is and heads to Hammer Industries with Happy to stop him.
Tony continues to evade the drones and Rhodey, at one point saving a young boy in an Iron Man mask from one of the drones. Natasha and Happy get into the Hammer building, and Natasha goes into full Black Widow mode, taking out multiple guards while Happy fights one. Vanko is gone, and Natasha is able to reboot Rhodey’s suit as he and Tony crash inside some sort of bio dome. Pepper ends up on the line and hears Natasha and Tony talking about Tony no longer dying. She freaks out, and he tries to explain things as the drones come in to get Tony and Rhodey. Tony and Rhodey fight over where to position themselves, and the drones show up and take the high ground. They fight off the drones in a quick (but fun) fight.
The police show up and arrest Hammer at the Expo as Natasha warns Tony that they’ve got something else flying into his position. Vanko shows up in his new suit. They exchange blows for a moment before he wraps his electric whips around Tony and Rhodey. Tony gets Rhodey to repeat what they did at his birthday party by blasting their repulsor beams at each other to create an explosion. It takes out Vanko, but before he dies or can be arrested, he sets off the drones, intending to create an explosion. Tony and Rhodey fly out, with Tony grabbing Pepper on the way out. They land on a rooftop, and Tony sort of apologizes for how he’s been. She resigns as CEO. They kiss, and Rhodey says he’s going to keep the suit.
The film begins to wrap things up with Tony meeting with Fury to discuss his future with SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative. They’re in a SHIELD room with monitors that highlight the Hulk’s battle with General Ross at the University in Incredible Hulk and feature other things that SHIELD is monitoring. One screen features a map of the world with places of interest highlighted, including New Mexico (Thor), Southern California (Iron Man), Greenland (Captain America), Africa (Black Panther), New York (Hulk), Norway (Where Red Skull finds the Tesseract in Captain America), and a random location in the Atlantic (maybe Namor?). Fury essentially tells Tony that they want Iron Man and not Tony for the Avengers, but would be willing to bring him in as a consultant. He says no at first but then agrees under one condition. In the final scene of the film, we see that the condition was that Senator Sterns, who had been a critic of Tony throughout the film, was the person to give Tony an award for stopping Vanko. He pins medals on Rhodey and Tony, making a slight quip about Tony being a prick. They all smile for the cameras, and the credits roll.
At the end of the day, the biggest issue with Iron Man 2 isn’t so much how many events they put into it, but how they’re done. There are a lot of scenes that could have been condensed and combined to make everything flow better. There’s no reason for three or four scenes between Vanko and Hammer, where each scene is essentially telling us the same thing with a nugget of info that we should have seen in their first exchange. There’s no reason why Fury and Tony have to meet at the diner and talk about his situation, and then two scenes later, continue this conversation at his home. And while there is a lot to take in here, it does all work well to move the plot along. Each character introduced in the film has an immense amount of potential, but the film spends so much time setting everything up and explaining things, there’s no chance for a good payoff.
Ivan Vanko could have been a top Marvel villain, but after the prison cell scene with Tony, he falters out. And his final fight scene goes by in a snap. Hammer is a great villain but feels repetitive at times when with Vanko. It’d be nice to see him return to the MCU and spread more of that devilish charisma around. Black Widow kicks ass in the scene at Hammer Tech, but she feels kind of out of place in the film at times. It’s all just a bit of a mess, but that being said, it’s still an entertaining film that’s worth watching when going through the whole MCU.
Once the credits finish rolling, we get a shot of the desert where a black car with New Mexico plates comes to a stop. Agent Coulson emerges from the car and calls Fury, saying, “Sir, we found it.” Cut to a crater with Thor’s hammer, Mojlnir, at the center. Thunder roars as it cuts to black. It’s a fun tease for the next entry in the MCU, and it hints to the audience that part of Thor will take place on Earth and include Coulson and SHIELD in some manner.
That’s it for now, but be sure to check back with us in the coming days as we dive into Thor, a film that took the MCU off of Earth and began hinting at some of the big plans that Marvel would have over the next 7 years.